Why do you think Jesus talks so much about sin and righteousness and judgment? Why can’t He be more like those soothing, encouraging, reassuring pep-talk preachers?
Look at the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7, our Lord tells us we can recognize a tree by its fruits. A good tree will produce good fruits. A bad tree will produce bad fruits. And then we hear Him say that many will say “Lord, Lord” to Him on the Day of Judgment, but will be turned away.
Hearing this, we look at our own lives and what do we find?—impure thoughts, improper motives, rebellious behavior. Doubts insinuate themselves into our faith. We don’t do the will of the Father as our Lord wants us to do. Frequently, our hearts are cold and our minds dull. We sample these fruits and say, “Uh oh!”
It is the reality of the presence of sin in our lives that prompts our Lord to minister to us in truth, not in empty assurances. He doesn’t want us to be misled or self-deceived. He graciously alerts us lest we hear the words at life’s end: “I never knew you. Depart from Me.”
Perhaps unexpectedly, it is in these very words that we gain confidence that we will enter the kingdom of heaven. Notice what Jesus makes clear in Matthew 7:21-23.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Our confidence that we will enter the kingdom of heaven is not found in mere words. It is not those who just say that Christ is Lord who will be saved. Words come easy. It’s easy to say that you’ll be a loving and faithful spouse—until you don’t want to.
Jesus is not knocking a verbal profession of faith. After all, Romans 10:9 says that “if we confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved.” His point in Matthew 7 is that not “everyone” who makes such a claim actually has a claim to heaven.
Nor is our confidence found in mighty works. Even the most spectacular signs and wonders do not guarantee salvation. Our Lord makes it clear that a portfolio of our accomplishments, even remarkable ones, carry no weight before the judgment seat of God. The “many” who make such claims are likely the same “many” who find themselves on the wide and crowded road to destruction (Mt. 7:13).
When Jesus says in v. 21 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” He is not suggesting a salvation by our obedience to God. No, He is contrasting empty talk with the lives of those who know God as “Father.” He is reminding us that those who have really bowed the knee before Him as Lord, are concerned to do what He says.
Like crocuses blooming and temperatures warming are indicators of spring, so concern for obedience to God are indicators of being His child of grace. Our obedience is not the root of our salvation; it is the fruit of it. It is the natural consequence of being rooted and grounded in Christ, whose righteousness is our sole kingdom credential.
“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’” Jesus warns those gathered about Him. How can these words of verse 23 possibly give us confidence? They seem the last place we’d find any such assurance of salvation.
Our confidence rests in not what we say or do, but in being known by Jesus as one of His sheep. Jesus makes that apparent in His words to us as the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Note the theme of “knowing”and its outcome.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. …My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:14-15; 27-28)
Those who know Jesus, because they are known by Him, will hear a quite different declaration from His lips: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)
One last thought, those pep-talk preachers? They are the ones stationed by the wide gate, drawing big crowds.
(click here to read God’s Good News)